On May 17, 2013, the American Psychiatric Association announced the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM”), which had not been updated in twenty years. The DSM serves as the standard for the classification of mental health disorders used by mental health professionals; the manual includes diagnostic criteria for all mental health disorders recognized in the United States. The DSM also serves as an important tool for schools in determining a student’s eligibility for special education services and school accommodations.

The development of the DSM-5 was over fourteen years in the making and involved extensive research, analysis and review by the APA and other related organizations. School districts will certainly want to review the myriad of changes in the DSM-5, as understanding the diagnoses presented by students and their parents is paramount in determining the appropriateness of special education designation and appropriate services. Further, eligibility under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the existence of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The updated disorders and diagnosis criteria in the DSM-5 will thus be significant in determining eligibility of students under Section 504.

The APA provides a variety of information on its website, including Frequently Asked Questions and documents highlighting the various changes. School districts should review the changes and be prepared with updated information to ensure appropriate eligibility determinations and the receipt of appropriate educational services.